In today’s world, there are more nonprofits than ever asking donors to give from income and assets that may be increasingly uncertain. Therefore, now may be a good time to re-examine the ways in which we thank donors. A well-organized gift acknowledgment system can help form the foundation for relationships that lead to more frequent and larger gifts.
The end of the year is the busiest season for charitable gifts, and, therefore, thanking donors becomes even more critical at that time. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the do’s and don’ts of thanking donors.
Do acknowledge all gifts promptly. Once a gift has been received, timely acknowledgment is essential. While you may specify that gifts of larger amounts ideally call for a personal visit in addition to a handwritten letter and/or phone call, gifts of any size merit an appropriate and timely thank-you.
Don’t assume a donor’s small gift indicates a small interest in your mission. When a donor makes a gift of a smaller amount, that does not necessarily mean he or she has little interest in your cause. Treat all donors—even those of modest amounts—with the respect they deserve and thank them accordingly.
Keep in mind that older, long-term donors who may be living on a fixed income may be in the process of “downgrading” their giving. For example, a donor who has been a loyal supporter for 25 years may feel she is only able to give $5 currently. Thanking a long-term donor like this may yield tremendous benefits when that person decides how to distribute her $150,000 estate.
Do respect requests for privacy when thanking your donors. Many organizations offer donors of various amounts membership in special giving societies. Creating clubs or societies for donors—especially those who have made planned gifts such as bequests, life income plans, or other gifts from long-range estate and financial plans—can be an effective way to maintain ongoing relationships with donors.
While you may offer to include recognition society donors’ names in your communications pieces, be sensitive to the fact that some persons will wish to remain anonymous for religious and other reasons. Be sure your gift acknowledgment system is designed to preserve the anonymity of these donors where appropriate. But remember, however, that just because some do not want their names published does not mean they do not want and need to be thanked. Find less public ways to thank these donors, and they will appreciate your regard for their wishes.
Don’t spend more time “making the ask” than “making the thank.” It is important to devote as much or more energy in retaining donors as acquiring new ones, so you may find it beneficial to spend as much time and other resources in thanking donors as you do in asking them for their gifts in the first place. While you may be tempted to curb gift acknowledgment efforts in order to save funds, be wary of cutting back on thanking donors because that decision may backfire. We have observed that organizations that make attempts to thank as many donors as possible tend to raise more cumulative funds, both current and deferred, at lower overall costs than those that do not.
Do communicate thanks by sharing news with your donors. Whether they have made a large or small gift to your organization, donors who make contributions have indicated an interest in your cause. They have made a sacrifice and given funds that they could have used for themselves in many ways. Consider sending your donors information about how your organization or institution is making a difference. Invite them to special events where possible. Mailing newsletters and other updates, for example, can also be a good way to say thank you on an ongoing basis while informing them about how their gifts are being used. Donors enjoy seeing or reading about projects they have helped make possible and hearing how those who benefited appreciate their help.
Maintaining a close relationship with donors by expressing your gratitude sincerely and appropriately can go a long way toward growing the annual or occasional donor into a major and/or planned giver. Help people feel good about their association with you, thank them in meaningful ways, and you will nurture a constituency of long-term, committed donors who are happily devoted to your cause.